From She-Ra to Sailor Moon, the concept of a woman transforming into a magical warrior to save the world has always been awesome and queer as f*ck. Sailor Moon had a lesbian couple as part of the main cast as well as a main protagonist that would be kissed by both men and women. Meanwhile, the 2018 version of She-Ra would feature a queer woman protagonist as well as several other LGBTQ+ secondary characters. Now, writer and creator Steve Orlando along with editors Joseph IIIidge and Tim Seeley, artist Ivan Shavirin, and letterer Saida Temofonte, aim to add a new tale to this collective known as Starward.
Issue 1 of the comic begins with a dream of times long past as a group of warrior women in colourful armour, known as The Starward Sisters and The Daughters of Atlas, battle a dark being known as Kaos near a large tower. Just as a warrior clad in purple charges forward, a young woman named Stephanie Cohen abruptly awakens on the morning of her 20th birthday. From there on out, Stephanie gets some unexpected birthday surprises.
One of the best things about this comic is how Ivan Shavirin’s artwork drew me into the story. The opening pages depicting the Starward Sisters battling Kaos are stunning and resemble a watercolour painting. Enhancing the artwork is Saida Temofonte’s lettering, which features a font and white speech bubbles that imply the person narrating the dream is omniscient. They gave the narrator a voice that conveyed a vast amount of wisdom. These pages made me want to know more about the warrior women and if they had a chance of winning their battle.
Besides the artwork, Starward’s protagonist Stephanie Cohen is interesting and relatable. Her room and her parent’s house where she lives convey personal details both big and small, such as a Star of David necklace showing that she is Jewish, and the pre-med book that is left on a table as a birthday present from her parents.
More important details about Stephanie reveal themselves as she heads to her summer lifeguard job. Not only does she hate her pre-med career track and her summer job, but she only did the former because her parents expected her to. Stephanie feels stuck because she’s unhappy doing what her parents want, instead of following her passion for folklore. However, Stephanie’s life is shaken up when she faints and falls into the pool the literal minute she turns 20.
Although her best friend Masami eventually manages to pull Stephanie out, she has a hard time because Stephanie’s body briefly becomes really dense and hot. Although the reason for this isn’t clearly explained, this is probably due to her magical awakening. As Masami explains why Stephanie couldn’t be moved, there are images of the tower from the beginning of the comic emitting some signals as molten-looking purple stuff flows into its center. At the center is a looming shadow of Kaos emitting a bright green light, which implies that he is awakening at the same time Stephanie is. The purple stuff would soon be seen again as Stephanie transforms for the first time.
After regaining consciousness, Stephanie briefly enters a trance and stars appear in her eyes as she says, “I see seven stars awakening.” At this very moment, six young women at different locations look up. All of them seem to sense Stephanie’s presence even though none have ever met her before. The page layout here is notable due to how it conveys the same moment in different ways, with some women looking up from work, while others look from a moment alone or with loved ones. Counting Stephanie, she and the other six young women are the seven “stars” undergoing this awakening.
After her awakening, Stephanie abruptly transforms into the purple armor she has seen in her dream that morning as a voice says, “Stephanie Cohen, welcome to your third decade. Welcome to your true self.” At this point, I would like to praise whoever designed Stephanie’s armor because it looks like a great mix of modern She-Ra mixed with the superhero Amethyst Princess of Gemworld. Some of the best magical girl outfits embody femininity or practicality and this outfit has both.
While the voice doesn’t explain why she is welcoming Stephanie, she does explain that she is the voice of Stephanie’s heart and the voice of Stephanie’s past self as a Starward Sister. The voice also says that Stephanie is unconsciously mourning the death of their “Ur-father” in their “meta-genetic memory”. If Stephanie’s mourning dream is any indication, then the “Ur-father” is implied to be Atlas, the Greek god charged with holding up the sky. Hopefully this means that some of Atlas’ strength is passed down to Stephanie and his other daughters.
The voice tells Stephanie to “destroy the one”, who is later explained to be “Kaos”. However, it is interrupted by the jerk lifeguard Brad who scolds Stephanie for taking too long in the locker room. At this point, Stephanie decides to quit her job on the spot, taking Masami’s lighter and her swimsuit with her. “The one” is soon explained to Stephanie to be “Kaos”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kaos somehow possessed Brad and made him a “monster of the week” for Stephanie to fight in a later issue.
As Stephanie uses Masami’s lighter to burn her lifeguard swimsuit and pre-med book, the voice remarks on how well Stephanie is taking her transformation into a magical warrior. This is an impressive contrast given that other magical girls like Sailor Moon’s Usagi or She-Ra’s Adora tend to freak out a bit. Stephanie coyly explains that she’s been ready for a magical quest since she was a kid reading mythology books.
The issue ends on a rather ominous note: after tasking Stephanie with finding her other Starward Sisters, the voice tells her that Kaos has already arrived on earth as Stephanie stops in front of a mall. This suggests that there is either a threat there or there is going to be. Maybe Stephanie will meet one of her fellow Starward sisters there too?
Overall, this is an intriguing start to a new magical girl series. It has the potential to appeal to fantasy lovers through its dazzling art, page layouts, and lettering as well as its snarky, fun female lead Stephanie. It is a new star that has the potential to shine bright.
You can purchase the first issue of Starward via your local comics retailer.